Pan Appalachian Defender

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The First “Beyond Coal” Conference asks What does Appalachia do After Coal?

Over forty dedicated and concerned citizens from the Appalachian region gathered at Hindman Settlement School April 28-29 for the first “Beyond Coal Conference: Building Healthy Communities in Appalachia.” Participants were challenged to think about ways to shift from economies reliant on coal to more sustainable economies.
One of the conference organizers, of the Lexington Environmental Action Project (LEAP) and MJS Kentucky, said, “This is a really complicated question, and now is the time for us to think about it. The coal boom that’s going on right now is going to end, one way or another, and it’s important for us to be proactive rather than reactive.”
The University of Kentucky’s Committee on Social Theory co-sponsored the event. Committee member Brandon Absher said in his welcome to participants, “Regardless of your feelings about mountaintop removal and the coal industry in general, it is clear that the coal economy alone cannot sustain the Appalachian region … We feel that the economy to come must not only sustain the region, it must empower the region.” Judy Bonds, community organizer for Coal River Mountain Watch, opened the conference with a rousing speech. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging the negative impacts that coal has had in communities all over Appalachia, while being visionary in our plans for the future.
Workshop and panel discussion topics included small business development, sustainable land use, grant opportunities, eco-tourism, and more. A number of Appalshop films were shown that highlighted organizations and towns working to build sustainable economies in the Appalachian coalfields. Conference attendees didn’t need to look far to find examples of positive economic development. In Hindman, Kentucky, where the conference was held, artisans, craftspeople, and government officials have been working together to develop small businesses around tourism and the unique talents of local artists.
The conference concluded with a keynote speech by Dr. Richard Couto from Antioch University. Dr. Couto is the author of Making Democracy Work Better, a book that stresses the need for Appalachian grassroots organizations to represent the people’s interest in a country where government and business are both increasingly preoccupied with profits. Dr. Couto stressed the importance of continuing our struggle, even when the task seems daunting.
This will be the first of many Beyond Coal conferences. A handful of attendees from MJS have already volunteered to plan the next one! While participants may not have answered all of the questions surrounding this complex issue, the first Beyond Coal conference provided everyone present with an opportunity to think about the issue and share with other people from around the region. If you are interested in attending or helping to plan the next conference, please contact


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